Sham Autonomous Councils
But China Is A Real Problem
Previous articles (on March 27 and April 10) have outlined Russia's advance in Eastern Asia and the internal situation in Japan. This one is concerned with Japanese activities on the Asiatic mainland.
And the first point to be emphasised in this connection is the change of tone that comes over the Japanese handling of affairs when the military chiefs feel themselves out of reach of Tokyo.
It was explained in the last article that, while the two schools of thought in the Japanese army agree in an aggressive militarism, the conservative school at present dominant tries to keep the army out of politics and upholds the outward forms of parliamentary and civil government. On the mainland they have no hesitation in thrusting their civilian colleagues into the background and in talking openly about their aims.
This considerably aggravates a situation that in any case seems made to lead to war, for there are limits to the possibility of repudiating the acts of individual soldiers, especially if they provoke bloody reprisals that inflame public feeling at home. On the other hand it has been justly observed that the very frequency of " incidents " on the frontier between Manchukuo and Russia or Russian-controlled territories is a sort of safeguard, for, if so many have been patched up, the next may be—until one side or the other is ready for war on the grand scale.
Much the same is true of the "forward moves" which the soldiers are constantly promoting against China. At frequent intervals we hear of new "autonomy movements" designed to bring some fresh province under Japanese control, or of a new set of demands on the central government at Nanking, but a proportion of them come to nothing for lack of support from Tokyo.
Why Japan Wants North China
Yet the trend of policy that they represent is never reversed. Tokyo, equally with the generals on the spot, intends to gain control of North China. It is argued that it is necessary to Manchukuo. The League of Nations said with some truth that the two regions are closely inter-depentient economically, and inferred that they should not be separated. The Japanese agree to the premises and draw the same inference, but they have a different conception of the way to end the separation!
They want North China for its rich supplies of coal and cotton to supplement the resources of Manchukuo and of Japan itself. They want the strategic advantages of a southward extension of their military bases to meet the southward extension of the soviet's military preparations. For the U.S.S.R. is building strategic railways southward from Siberia across Outer Mongolia.
They want also political control of North China, to restore the political stability which the Nanking government cannot give, and to stem the spread of Chinese communism. Not many weeks ago Red troops were pouring across the Yellow River into Shansi, which is the next province to Hopei, in which Peking is situated.
North of the Great Wall
Up to the present open military conquest has been limited to the regions north of the Great Wall. There it has been pushed from Manchukuo southward through Jehol to the wall itself and westward from Jehol into the province of Chahar.
West of Chahar lies Inner Mongolia. Chahar and Inner Mongolia together form a huge strip of buffer' territory running roughly from east to west for more than a thousand miles between China proper on the south, behind the Great Wall, and Outer Mongolia on the north, beyond the Gobi Desert. Outer Mongolia, it will be remembered, is under soviet control.
A million or so Mongols inhabit Inner Mongolia and their numerous tribes are being worked upon by Russian, Japanese and Chinese emissaries, each striving to set up "autonomous regimes," and each able to claim some success.
South of the Great Wall
Chahar itself is, under Japanese auspices, united politically with Hopei, south of the wall. This is natural enough, for Hopei and part of Chahar once formed a single province of China. (It was then named Chihli, which means "direct rule," because Peking, the capital, was situated in it. When the Republican government made Nanking their headquarters, the name Chihli became inappropriate to Hopei.) They are now reunited under an "autonomous" political council that the Japanese have set up.
The Japanese have tried to bring other provinces of North China, including Shansi and Shantung, into this "autonomous" group, but, though a peasant rebellion was staged and some notables squared, this was one of the moves that had to be dropped for the time being.
On the other hand, most of Hopei, including Peking and Tientsin, is under real though disguised military control. The Tangku truce of a year ago "demilitarised" a zone from Peking to the sea, which meant in effect that the Chinese may not have any troops in the zone, nor even so much as a revenue cutter, within three miles of their own coast, while the Japanese retain their troops in the international garrison at Tientsin, control Peking and the remainder of the zone by troops masquerading as gendarmes, and divert revenues from the Nanking government to the Hopei-Chahar Council.
China in Dissolution
Chiang Kai-shek at Nanking is not in a position to make effective military resistance but neither can he accept the Japanese terms, for that would destroy his moral authority with the Chinese. And it must be said in fairness to the Japanese that the semi-paralysis of the Nanking government is part of a deep disorder in the body politic that makes China an incalculable and exasperating neighbour.• Though there is practically no spontaneous demand in any of its provinces for separation from Nanking under Japanese auspices, most of the provinces are in fact semi-independent of Nanking and cannot be counted on to adhere to any agreement Nanking may make or to keep internal order.
Moreover, organised communism has a firm hold in many of them and the best that Chiang Kai-shek can do is to prevent fresh encroachments by the Red armies. And now there are suspecions that the Nanking government itself is once more looking to Rusisa for aid.
Choosing the Time
All these things give Japan some pretext for her intervention as the selfstyled natural guardian of China against anarchy, communism and European exploitation. She knows, however, that if she moves appreciably farther towards the control of North China she will have to meet not merely the moral censures of the League of Nations, for which she has not the slightest respect, but the resentment of vast commercial interests.
Nor will she begin military operations against the U.S.S.R. until she is virtually certain that the rest of Europe and the U.S.A. are incapable of combining for economic action against her.